Spirited search

November 16, 2008

The home at 519 Campbell St. in Joliet is, in many ways, an ideal backdrop for ghost hunting.

Built in 1902, the home, with its dated, ornate style and wrought iron fence in front, could make passersby think that the spirit world visits the place.

And then there are the owners. Diethard Beyer, Kurt Beyer and Keith Nicholls live in the 25-room home.

Every Halloween they transform the front yard into a haunted house attraction, complete with a hearse and a real human skeleton in an antique coffin.

What allegedly happens every day in the home, though, was the reason the homeowners contacted Will County Ghost Hunters.

In the main floor's library, the owners have smelled pipe smoke, felt the presence of a man and have found books that do not belong to any of them. They also have sensed the presence of a woman and a small boy.

"We are trying to get an answer to who is here with us," Diethard said.

The homeowners have their own stories as to why otherworldly beings may inhabit the home. One of them lost a sister at a young age and another lost a partner.

The current homeowners' experiences notwithstanding, the history of the home and the homes around it could explain the activity the three men have experienced but cannot explain.

History of home
The home was built in 1902 by A.C. Clement, who bought the land from his father, Charles.

A.C. lived with his family on Easter Avenue while 519 Campbell St. was under construction. Although A.C. built the home, he never lived in it. He committed suicide in the basement of his Eastern Avenue home before the Cambell Street one was finished.

A.C.'s daughter, Laura, moved into the house with her family. In 1922, the house was converted into Resthaven Retirement home.

In the late 1950s, it became Blackburn Funeral Home and remained so until the mid 1970s. The current homeowners bought the house in 2000.

Diethard said he and his partner Kurt had a set of criteria that guided their search for a house. "We said we wanted something older, and we wanted this and we wanted that," he said. "Everything we punched up, this house came up.

"It just showed up on every list."

When they drove out to see the house the first time, they did not even know where Joliet was. The directions took them down all back roads, so they thought they were in the middle of nowhere.

But when they pulled up, they knew they were home. "It was like, oh my god, this is our house," Diethard said. "And it was a dump at that point."

The homeowners unearthed numerous items in the house, such as the original arts and crafts style painted walls in the dining room that they are restoring.

Although it is not known if anyone died in the house, Will County Ghost Hunter lead investigator Dan Jungles said the building's time as a nursing home could have meant that more than one death occurred within its walls.

In addition, some hauntings are more about trapped energy than trapped beings. The building's time as a funeral home meant than there was a lot of grief felt there.

And the house is not the only place of grief in the neighborhood.

Across the street is the former home of Maggie Wilson, whose husband is serving 28 years in prison for her murder.

Maggie was good friends with the homeowners, and Diethard serves as the executor of her estate.

The night before she was killed, she told her neighbors that she was afraid. Diethard is unsure if the woman they keep sensing is Maggie.

"We wonder about that," he said. "She did feel comfortable and safe here, but we're not sure."

Ghost check
Will County Ghost Hunters went out to the house on Oct. 10. During the investigation, ghost box was used, which essentially is a radio that scans through the stations without stopping.

The idea is that ghosts can use the white noise to answer questions in real time (the investigation concluded that they did).

You can listen to the electronic voice phenomenon, or EVPs, at the Ghost Hunter's Web site, www.aghostpage.com.

The clearest communication came in a second-floor bedroom to the question, "Did you have children?" The response was "two boys."

In addition to that, ghosts seem to call the names of two of the investigators, Jeri (Fulan) and Sunnie (Boland). But there might be another explanation for something calling out, "Hi, Jeri."

The homeowners are friends with the Palmer family. The Herald News followed Jeri Palmer through her last days in a series called Living with Dying. There was no way to know who the ghost was calling out to, but either is an explanation.

In addition, a voice called out the name Peggy. The homeowners did not have an explanation for that.

In previous investigations at the home, the investigators caught what appears to be the shadow of a figure who would stand more than 7 feet.

Jungles said the house is definitely haunted.

But the homeowners don't really mind. They would like to know who shares their space with them, but they don't necessarily want the entities to leave.

"We want them to stay," Kurt said. "They haven't thrown knives or anything."